"Amastra" mined Nha Trang Vietnam
picture by Barney Boylan, with permission.
Vietnam, Nha Trang bay, POL station.
Picture shows Barney Boylan on the left, with hands in pockets.
The Amastra's crew is returning to the vessel in a landing craft.
The crew volunteered to go back on board to tie up the Dutch Shell tanker "Kara" when she would come alongside.
Here follows the story by Barney Boylan as published on Helderline, with permission.
On the 11th April 1967 I found myself sailing along the coast of Vietnam bound for the port of Nha Trang. I was a crew member on board the Shell tanker MV Amastra.
We were carrying a cargo of Jp4 fuel for the American air force.
We had loaded this cargo in Singapore, while there the Bum Baot girls had come on board, along with an Indian Sikh, he was telling fortunes.
He told me I would be going home soon, I had already been on board the Amastra for seven months. On this morning I went on deck at seven o'clock to watch the early morning mist clear from the mountains, a first glimpse of this country so much in the news for so many years of war. Mid day came and we finally reached our destination in the large bay at Nha Trang. We were to anchor and connect up to a submarine pipeline, where we could remain as a floating storage depot for the American air force. The idea being the fuel would be safer in a ship in the bay than in the storage tanks ashore where the Viet Cong could attack and destroy it.
There would be no shore leave as we were in a war zone. That evening we had a film show on board, one of the three films we were allowed per month, so things were not so bad, a few cans of beer and a nearly new film, what more could we want.
The film ended about ten thirty pm, I returned to my cabin to play with the dials of my brand new Phillips World receive radio, just bought in Singapore. It had been a long day and soon I was in my bunk with lights out, but not for long.
I was rudely awakened by a dull thud and vibration in my cabin, quickly followed by the ships alarm bells being sounded. I was out of my bunk as quick as a cat chased up a tree by a bull dog, on with shoes and trousers, and one other very important thing my Lifejacket, for I could not swim an inch. I was met in the alleyway by my ship mate John Young from Longford and the third engineer shouting, get out quick she's going down. We dashed along the alleyway and up the companionway to the deck where we found the crew messman cowering down behind the ships steel bulwark. I asked him what had happened, he replied we might have been fired on from ashore, he didn't know for sure. Within an few more moments the lights went out and the ships horn sounded the abandon ship signal. My lifeboat station was amidships on the port side, which meant I now had to make my way along the catwalk above the tanks of jet fuel oil to reach my boat station, where my job was to tie the painter from the lifeboat to a bollard on the fore deck. I have often heard of the expression of a person's knees knocking together, now I was experiencing it for myself first hand as I made my way along the deck after securing the painter. My lifeboat had now been swung out over the ships side by the other crew members, when along came the marines to rescue us. Small patrol boats and amphicars were sent from shore when the lights went out, and our distress call was picked up. By now we could see and feel the ship sinking by the stern. The Viet Cong had sent out an under water swimmer to plant a limpet which blew a large hole in the engine room. As no one knew how many had been planted , we were told to stop lowering our own lifeboats and get in the rescue boats as quick as possible, because if there was another explosion we were all dead men. The marines in the amphicars brought us to a beach to await a lift to Camp McArthur, it was the start of a new day for all the crew now safely ashore in war torn Vietnam.
From US Navy archives the following story was extracted:
At 0010h, on April 12, 1967, the privately chartered 9,000 ton British flagged Shell Oil tanker M/V AMASTRA had been holed by an external explosive device while moored in the POL transfer anchorage in Nha Trang Harbor, Vietnam.
The AMASTRA was preparing to off load aviation fuel for military aircraft when the explosion ripped open a four by six foot jagged hole at the waterline near the fire wall between the engine room and the boiler room.
The engine room, fire room and the after pump room flooded in twenty minutes causing the AMASTRA’s stern to settle to the harbor bottom leaving the rear decks awash.
Another Shell Oil tanker, the Dutch flagged M/V KARA from ‘s-Gravenhage, Netherlands arrived and moored port side to the AMASTRA. The KARA provided auxiliary power and steam so AMASTRA could transfer 640,000 gallons of fuel to the KARA. The AMASTRA's damaged area was thirty feet below the water line and required a twelve by twelve-foot patch.
In the early morning hours of April 13, USS “Current” ARS-22 arrived at Nha Trang. Shortly after arriving, the work boat was placed in the water and a salvage team departed for the tanker to survey the damage and plan a course of action. Commander Service Group Three salvage officer Commander J. B. Orem was designated Officer in Charge of the AMASTRA salvage operation. USS “Greenlet” ASR-10 as well as Harbor Clearance Unit One's HCT-3 staff members were also sent from Vung Tau to assist during the re-floating operation.
Floodlights were secured on USS “Current” ARS-22’s rails and directed into the waters around the ship at sunset. Armed sentries were posted during darkness to defend against any attempt to attach an explosives charge to USS “Current” ARS-22's hull. Early each morning, USS “Current” ARS-22 weighed anchor and moored starboard side to AMASTRA. At the end of each day, USS “Current” ARS-22 departed AMASTRA and re-anchored in the center of Nha Trang Harbor for security.
Prior to transferring fuel oil to the KARA, USS “Current” ARS-22 diver LTJG Vince Weis along with a HCU-1 diver wearing shallow water diving gear went into the AMASTRA's engine room, filled with dangerous gas fumes, to close a set of valves that allowed AMASTRA's oil cargo to be transferred to the KARA. USS “Current” ARS-22’s crew rigged salvage pumps and compressors then transferred them to the decks of AMASTRA. After the ship’s divers maneuvered a fabricated patch into place to stop the inflow of sea water into the engine room, the salvage pumps were started and the AMASTRA began to show freeboard. The spaces on the AMASTRA that had been flooded were cleared with the help of thirty to forty Vietnamese and Filipino stevedores.
With the loss of power for refrigeration, combined with the hot climate of Vietnam, an estimated six thousand pounds of spoiled meat and vegetables were removed from AMASTRA to a barge then dumped at sea. While ashore hiring the stevedores, USS “Current” ARS-22’s Operations Officer LTJG Mark Lusink in a conversation with local villagers was informed that the AMASTRA was mined by the South Vietnamese to prevent it from sailing to Haiphong, North Vietnam. Shell Oil tankers did not travel to North Vietnam.
The initial investigation indicated that a Limpet mine of approximately 80 to 90 pounds of explosives was used. In view of the close proximity of 150 yards to the beach hamlet of Truong Tay, a known haven for local pilferers, black marketers and other questionable individuals, the investigation determined that the explosive charge was most likely delivered from the hamlet area by a swimmer sapper. The Vietnam war was certainly a strange and crazy war. The majority of the 43 man crew was removed by local Army landing craft about half an hour after the explosion. They spent the night at the American Army Officers' quarters at Camp John McDermott in Nha Trang.
On April 22, 1967, USS “Current” ARS-22’s salvage crew successfully raised and dewatered the AMASTRA. The fabricated patch was removed and a more permanent steel patch was constructed. SFM2 "Ace" Acfalle, one of USS “Current” ARS-22's ship fitters, spent the better part of two days, without any rest, welding the metal patch to the AMASTRA to make it seaworthy.
The AMASTRA was towed by commercial tug to Singapore for dry-docking and repairs.